I vividly remember May 2017. I’d been training most of the year for an ultra-marathon that was due to take place on June 4, but I’d been plagued by a “groin strain” since February. Running the Manchester and Paris marathons a week apart at the start of April seemed to exacerbate the injury.
Needing more tests
“I won’t be running Comrades if I don’t get this sorted,” I told my wife, thinking a cortisone injection would sort it out. So off I trotted to see a sports injuries doctor on May 8, 2017, and we’d pre-arranged an MRI scan. When the doctor saw the scan, I’m pretty sure that he knew straight away what he was looking at.
When he and the radiologist were in and out of each other’s offices for the next hour, it was pretty clear that they were talking about me. The fact that I was the only patient in the waiting area was a give-away!
The doctor called me into his office and explained that I needed some more tests to rule out anything “untoward.” He said that they were expecting to see osteoporosis of the hip and weren’t seeing that.
Starting to worry
Off I trotted round the corner for blood tests and a chest x-ray. A bit worrying, because you don’t need those for a groin strain, right?
I noticed the handwritten letters “PSA” on the bloods form, but it meant nothing to me, so I didn’t twig what it could be for. However, I knew it was pretty serious when he told me that he’d booked me in for a CT scan at a different hospital the following morning, and a deep sense of foreboding swept me.
When I got home, I explained to Mrs. C what had happened, but told her that the doctor had said it might be an infection. She held me and re-assured me that it couldn’t be anything really serious, because I was an ultra-fit runner.
But I kept my fears to myself. I was absolutely terrified and made the first major mistake of turning to Mr. Google, but even he didn’t come up with prostate cancer!
Getting the call
May 9 was CT scan day and was pretty unnerving, as I’d had to get my insurers to approve the scan. They were awkward about it, and then when I arrived no one knew I was coming. Anyway, that was soon sorted, and a few hours later I got home and went off to running club.
We left the club after our run and headed for a beer when my phone rang. I rejected the call, as I didn’t recognize the number. When it rang again, displaying the same number, I thought I’d better take the call.
It was the sports injuries doctor telling me that he was 99% certain that I had prostate cancer, and he was telling me over the phone as I needed more urgent tests ASAP.
After the whirlwind 10 days that followed, everything was confirmed. Advanced stage prostate cancer spread to the bones, and a worst-case prognosis of 2 years.
I’d literally gone from training for an ultra-marathon to terminally ill in 36 hours!
The spread of my prostate cancer
The groin strain turned out to be stress fractures of the pelvis where the cancer had eaten into the bone, but it had also spread to the hips, spine, ribs, neck and skull, and they think I’d had it for 10 years. I’d had no symptoms whatsoever.
May 9, 2021, has seen me beating the worst-case prognosis by at least 2 years. It is a major celebration, both of me surviving this far, but also it is the end of my streak of running or hiking (some days both) every single day since May 1, 2020, and covering well over 1,500 miles in 374 days in the process.
What should you take away from this? Well, first, regular testing every year from age 50 could have caught my cancer early, leading to curative treatment instead of a terminal diagnosis aged 60.
Second, even with the horrendous impact of 4 years of hormone therapy, superhuman feats are still possible. Yes, my diagnosis is effectively a death sentence, but I won’t let it stop me from having targets and achieving them!
By the way, the sports injury doctor has since told me that he only sees one case like mine every year. It would be me, wouldn’t it?
Have you made personal connections through your journey with prostate cancer?